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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 12323

Senator ALLISON (3:29 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Allison today relating to depleted uranium weapons.

The Minister for Defence today assured us, as he did yesterday, that the risks that were posed to our units and special forces in Iraq were low. He also scoffed at the fact that this week Dr Rokke from the US, who was an army major, a health physicist for many years and an expert on exposure of troops to toxic material, mentioned this on radio as if that is something that makes that not legitimate.

I strongly suggest that the minister or someone from his department actually meet with Dr Rokke while he is here. He is a very well-informed individual. I met with him on the weekend and was somewhat shocked and alarmed at what he had to say about the likely exposure of our troops in Iraq. He is sick, in fact, because he spent some time in the Middle East salvaging DU-contaminated tanks, among other things. He says that Iraq is a toxic wasteland and that this is the result of a long Gulf War and the most recent attack on Iraq by the US and the UK. He says that the United States blew up weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s—most of which, of course, were supplied by America to Iraq—and, in so doing, released nerve agents and biological and chemical weapons into the atmosphere which remain there today. He also says there are endemic diseases in the area and hazardous materials that have been released through the bombing of industrial sites. He says the oil fires, for instance, have left an enormous pall of contamination and that this affected troops while they were there and will affect them subsequently. He says that pesticides were used without much discretion and that, all in all, it is not a safe place for either Iraqis or our troops to have been.

On the question of DU, he says that pretty much every armament that was used in the Middle East had high concentrations of depleted uranium. He showed me documents that demonstrated what I had only heard anecdotally, which is that the US regards DU as a very handy substance. Not only is it very heavy and very useful for penetrating hard surfaces but also it has allowed the US to get rid of a lot of very difficult intractable waste. In fact, 100 grams of uranium-328 produces 99.2 grams of depleted uranium and just 0.6 grams of usable uranium. So there is an enormous quantity to be gotten rid of. He says that it is in cruise missiles, landmines and ballast used for aircraft. He says that 15,000 rounds of DU-armaments—in just one form of armament—were used during the Gulf War. They each had four kilograms. So an enormous quantity of depleted uranium has been dispersed. I do not think we can say that it goes onto the ground and just disappears for all time, as Senator Hill suggested today. That is a nonsensical notion, because we know that it hangs around for 4.5 billion years and that in a very dusty, dry sandstorm prone area, such as so much of the Middle East is, this will quickly be lifted into the atmosphere and will be inhaled and contaminate skin. So not only is it a problem for our troops; it is also a problem for people who have to live there.

On the ABC this morning, Dr Rokke said that there had been:

... extensive use of uranium munitions by the US and British forces.

His concern was:

... that any individual who has been exposed to this toxic wasteland receives the optimal medical care that they're due. In the case for Australian troops, although there's no indication that Australian troops did use uranium munitions in this war, they were still involved in the combat and the conflict area where uranium munitions were used and where all these other toxic materials were released.

He told the ABC reporter that tens of thousands of American soldiers who took part in the Gulf War are now seeking medical treatment and compensation for illnesses such as cancer, kidney and liver damage and respiratory ailments. The minister scoffed at the figures that I used. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.